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Terra Ceia Bay/ Manatee County Fishing

It's been three weeks between reports, and it's been a very busy time. My time has been limited with writing deadlines and fishing so, I'm going to try to hit a couple of the highlights since my last report.

June 20, 2005
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It’s been three weeks between reports, and it’s been a very busy time.  My time has been limited with writing deadlines and fishing so, I’m going to try to hit a couple of the highlights since my last report.

The last week of May and first week of June found me nearly bailing out of the house with all the rain and stormy weather that we had.  All trips scheduled for the week were cancelled due to the lousy weather.  By the week’s end, it wasn’t much better, but on June 4th I was preparing to head across the state to the DOA Outdoor Writer’s event, scheduled through Wednesday the 8th.

On the trip across the state to Jensen Beach it seemed that rain followed and even lead the way to our destination.  Heavy rains in the Stuart area the week before were a downer.  A gusher of freshwater was introduced when the dams opened to release some of the freshwater from Lake Okeechobee.  The effect was to drive many fish away from the sweetwater to the salt, and to cause not only turbidity but also stain the water with tannin.  Capt. Mark Nichols, of DOA Lures remarked at how the fishing had taken a down turn since the rains, but regardless, we were optimistic.

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We arrived at the River Palm Cottages and Fish Camp Sunday, in time to relax. The location is a tropical oasis in the heart of some of the best fishing the East Coast has to offer.  The amenities extend beyond the tiki hut at the water’s edge where trophy fish hang beneath the thatched roof and a dock that runs well into the Indian River.  River Palm has become somewhat of a destination place for romantic rendezvous’ and weddings.

The early arrival also gave me time to gather fishing information a day before the initial festivities, when outdoor writers from around the country and DOA Pro-Staff Guides would get together to talk about some of the new DOA products, fishing, and come up with a game plan for the next several days on the water.

Monday, I had the pleasure of fishing with John Wildeman, of Action Craft Boats and Bill Faulkner, editor for South Florida Sport Fishing Magazine.  We trailered my 1820 Action Craft north toward Hutchinson Island where we launched at JC Park, about a 30-mile drive.  Launch sites were under construction after the destruction caused by hurricanes that devastated the area last year.  Idling west out of the park, we got on plane and headed for Bear Point, an area where several locals had done well with large trout the day before.  We combed the flat for a couple of hours and came up with a number of nice trout in the mid-twenty inch range using CAL Jigs with Shad tails and the new 5.5-inch Jerk Worm rigged weedless on worm hooks both with and without the new Chug Head.  All produced very well.  Working one bar we managed to pick up a few nice snook, but nothing of any major size, that the area is noted for.  The abbreviated trip lasted only a few hours before we headed in for the evening festivities that included libation and a fish fry suitable for any gourmet appetite.

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We all turned in early to get a head start on the morning Tuesday when we all gathered at the hut for breakfast at 5 a.m.  Ready for the day, my anglers were Mike Conner, editor of Shallow Water Angler and managing editor for Florida Sportsman Magazine along with environmental engineer, Joey Landerneau.  We launched as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon.  Motoring to the west side of the river, I decided to work the docks and grassy edges of the flat to see what was there.  As I eased into the area, mullet were schooling and menhaden were flipping.  It was definitely a good sign.  But when the water erupted around a school of glass minnows at a nearby dock we sat up and paid close attention.  Moments later we were all hooked up with reds, snook, or trout.  Slam after slam ensued over the next three or four hours while we worked the dock pattern.  Snook and trout are an everyday occurrence there, but redfish had been very hard to come by.  In fact, in the 6 years or so that I had been fishing the area, this was the first time I caught redfish.  We managed 7 or 8 reds to almost 30-inches on CAL Shads and Jerk Worms as well as a number of really nice snook and trout.

The evening ended with tales of the day’s fishing and a world-class bar-be-que.  All turned in before the witching hour so as to make the morning breakfast.

Capt. John Kumiski, noted author, guide, and outdoor writer for CAM IRL Magazine, joined me for the day’s fishing early Wednesday.  John and I headed for the same launch site.  Upon turning the Flat Back II westward away from the ramp, John told me about getting spooled by a mammoth fish the day before on an area not far from where we were.  Within minutes we approached the spot.  I lowered my trolling motor to ease into the area with stealth.  Again we threw the DOA Shrimp and CAL Shad tails.  I hooked up with a nice trout around 22-inches and released her.  John had a hit from something that broke his leader not once, but three times.  It seemed as though he was snake bit.  As we worked around the area we saw several snook well above the 20-pound mark.  After a short time, I decided to go back to the dock pattern that worked with good success the day before.  It was only a matter of moments before I was hooked up with redfish, and not long after, snook and mangrove snapper cooperated.  I asked John what his preference was, and he said tarpon.  Monday while running in the ICW I noted rolling tarpon near Little Mud Creek.  I headed for the area and we found what we were looking for.  Our first sighting was a fish in the 100-pound class.  As we drifted the area, huge snook were seen in some deep holes.  I opted to run upwind and drift back down on them.  Standing on the poling platform, my eyes scanned the area for rolling tarpon, but I blind cast to the deep holes with a Trolling Model Baitbuster.  On about the fifth cast, something picked up my bait and ripped drag off my Shimano reel.  From the platform I thought it was a small tarpon, but as the fish got closer, I realized that it was a nice snook that ended up tipping the scales at about 15-pounds.  It was fun and a great way to end the fishing day and an East Coast trip.

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Fishing back in the Terra Ceia area had been hit and miss.  Red tide was in the outskirts of the area and the rains that I left continued to hammer us.  Over a foot of rain fell in less than a week, moving bait schools and making conditions very difficult to find some consistent action.  I had to do some scouting for my trips on Sunday the 12th, a double.  Saturday I did some running around but finding fish that would eat was tough.  It seemed that either the heavy rains or red tide or both was causing a problem.

When Colorado fly fishers Dave Haubert and his daughter Nellie joined me for the morning trip, a prediction of rain was in the forecast, but we were determined to find some eating fish.  The first few minutes had both Dave and Nel hauling trout to the boat.  After a time with the fly rod, the spinners were picked up for the remainder of the day.  Working the mangroves, one big red exploded on a CAL Shad.  After a couple of nice runs, the hook pulled and the fish escaped.  Snook and trout continued to cooperate to some degree, but not as they normally would.  In the last hour of the trip, bad weather moved in on us with heavy rain.  By the end of our 4-hour trip we had managed only about 4 or 5 snook and around a dozen trout or so, a slow half-day.  Rain fell as we headed for the dock.

Shortly after docking, my anglers for the afternoon trip arrived.  They were an hour or so early but we prepared for the wet day ahead.  North Port brothers Dexter and Brandon May and their father, Tim were up for anything.  Despite the poor action and bad weather on the morning trip, they stood in the pouring rain as I gave them the option to opt out.  They chose to fish.  It seems that an impending cancer operation scheduled in a couple of weeks for Brandon would not wait, so fishing is what we did.

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As we exited my canal, I hoped for better action.  The tides for the day were just about non-existent, and the action was predictably slow.  Still, the guys managed to catch snook and some trout.  It wasn’t the number or the size of the fish that gauged the success of the day, but it was the opportunity to seize the moment and enjoy it while it lasted.

It seems that we’ve been inundated with rain and elements beyond our control, but things always have a way of getting better.  As we approach next week’s full moon, we also welcome the first days of summer.  Things are heating up, and the early and late patterns will start showing as the mercury climbs.  ‘Til then…catch ya later!

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